Respect sacred natural sites to guarantee human rights, says new African Commission Resolution.
States, businesses and civil society must recognise and protect Africa’s sacred natural sites and territories in order to guarantee the human rights of her people, and especially the rights of indigenous peoples, says Africa’s largest human rights institution in a newly passed resolution,
The African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) passed Resolution 372 in late May at its 60th Ordinary Session in Niamey Niger. Sacred natural sites are recognised internationally as one of the oldest forms of culture-based conservation, defined as “areas of land or water having special spiritual significance to peoples and communities”. These sites, and therefore human rights, are under threat globally from the expansion of the extractive industries.
The resolution’s successful passage is a cause for celebration amongst the thousands of custodians of sacred natural sites and territories across Africa, civil society groups and African Commissioners alike. It marks a new chapter in Africa’s acknowledgement of these critical sites, ancestral lands and the traditions that have protected them for generations.
In the new resolution, the African Commissionacknowledges the critical role sacred natural sites play in the protection of African ecosystems, and also in the realisation of African people’s rights, including the right of peoples to economic, social and cultural development and the right of peoples to a satisfactory environment favourable to their development.
Stating its concern around “the continued growth of environmentally damaging industrial activity”, the resolution urges states, business and civil society groups to “recognize and respect the intrinsic value of sacred natural sites.” This is emphasized by a recent report from the African Commission and IWGIA, highlighting the impact of the extractive industries on indigenous peoples across Africa.
In an important step towards the decolonisation of African law and conservation practices, the resolution also recognises the strong existing role indigenous custodian communities are playing in caring for and protecting sacred natural sites and ancestral lands. The commission calls for the support and protection of these communities’ rights, practices and governance systems.
Custodian communities played a central role in the creation of Resolution 372 through a joint statement featured in 'A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems'. The ACHPR drew on this report in drafting the resolution. Whilst the resolution does not meet all the recommendations in the report, it does mark a positive step forward, and the Commission has shown enthusiasm and eagerness to work with civil society and custodians in enhancing and furthering this protection.
“Sacred sites and our rituals keep the land and the local climate in balance. Without them everyone suffers. This resolution will help us in our work to remind people of our responsibility to protect life for the next generation”, says Kagole Margaret Byarufu, a sacred natural site custodian from Buliisa, Uganda, who helped develop 'A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems'.
“The WGIP [Working Group on Indigenous Populations] is happy to have worked on this landmark Resolution and be at the vanguard of indigenous peoples’ rights in Africa”, says ACHPR Commissioner SoyataMaiga.
“Working with the African Commission and other regional bodies is essential in challenging industrial interests and standing up for Mother Earth, indigenous rights and future generations. I have been very encouraged by the Commissioners' commitment in the face of the escalating pressures on our continent”, says SulemanaAbudulai, Chair of the African Biodiversity Network.
“This is a huge achievement. Africa has a strong tradition of Sacred Natural Site conservation and it is part of our ongoing efforts to decolonise the law and conservation that makes this event so important for the whole continent”, says Nigel Crawhall, Director of the Secretariat for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committe.
African Commission Resolution 372 comes at a vital moment. Sacred natural sites and territories, and thereby human rights, are coming under threat due to the rapid growth of environmentally damaging industrial developments, which can cause irreparable damage to land and culture.
“The gist of the resolution is that there can be no human development without the consent of people who are affected by the various ventures that pass as industrialisation, through extractive industries and other development interventions that have hitherto ignored the communities directly affected by their actions. By extension, the resolution reminds us that it is now high time to recognise that ignoring indigenous and traditional communities and violating their rights constitutes a crime”, says MelakouTegegn, Expert Member of the African Commission WGIP.
“Indigenous peoples are facing increasing violation of their ancestral lands in the scramble for Africa’s rich natural heritage. The current dominant legal system legitimises the plundering of the planet. In this landmark resolution, the African Commission opens a space for affirming plurilegal systems, which recognise the Earth as the primary source of law. The Commission positions itself with other progressive initiatives to transform the dominant industrial jurisprudence and recognize indigenous rights and Nature’s rights”, says Liz Hosken, Director of The Gaia Foundation
A recent report by the African Commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Peoples highlights how extractive industries like mining are pushing Africa’s indigenous peoples to the margins and invading ancestral lands and previously protected areas. Oil and gas activities alone are compromising almost 30% of Africa’s protected areas, according to the UN Environment Programme.
“That this topic and then resolution have been met with such enthusiasm by the African Commission and its working groups attests to both its importance and the ambition of the Commission itself”, says Joseph Lambert, Researcher and Legal Support Officer of The Gaia Foundation
For more information, contact:
Frank Muramuzi,Director , National Association Of Proffessional Environmentalists (NAPE),
Background to the release.
NAPE, has been working on a program on strengthening community ecologica Governance systems, especially with Bunyoro communities along L.Albert in Western Uganda, to advocate for recognition and protection of Sacred Natural Sites as a way to address the impacts of climate change.The programe is part of bigger global efforts by governments, Civil society organisations and Cultural leaders to influence policies and laws for critical recognition and protection of these places if meaningful conservation of environment,food,fisheries and marine is to be realized.
NAPE, here in Uganda has worked closely with the Uganda Human Rights Commission ,including participating and launching the report;
'A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems'. with the Commission in May,2016 in Kampala.
"The passing of the resolution is a great success to NAPE efforts the Custodians of Sacred Natural Sites and all communities in Uganda who treasure their traditional cultures in conservation of their food,land and Ecosystems.'' Says Frank Muramuzi ,NAPE.
A Call for Legal Recognition of Sacred Natural Sites and Territories, and their Customary Governance Systems (2015).
The full report can be downloaded from: www.africanbiodiversity.org/CalltoAfricanCommission
Extractive Industries, Land Rights and the Indigenous Populations/Communities’ Rights (2017)
The full report can be downloaded from: http://www.iwgia.org/publications/search-pubs?publication_id=763
Though weather patterns have changed tremendously, planting seasons in Uganda are known to begin in March and August of every year respectively, depending on weather patterns. Towards that time, farmers are busy preparing gardens and seeds for planting.
Women are mainly at the center of seed selection for planting and preservation due to their primary responsibility of household food security. Traditionally, women were crucial to seed conservation efforts to keep their families endowed with food throughout the cycle.
Mrs. Plaxeda Byabataguzi, a resident of Kabaale parish in Buseruka Sub County in Hoima district was used to growing indigenous varieties of cassava, millet, simsim, beans, sweat potatoes and yams. She was used to the practice of saving and exchanging seeds with neighbors for planting.
Using her indigenous knowledge, she would know which seeds are suitable for the changing climatic conditions, nutritious and high-yielding; and which methods are best applied to protect the crops from weeds and how to control pests and diseases after harvesting. With this knowledge that was shared from generations to generations, the indigenous varieties played a very important role in securing households against food insecurity.
NAPE’s approach to strengthen community cultural governance is use of community dialogues. The use of approach is a realisation and appreciation that communities have for long been disconnected from their social and ecological realities, the so called ‘’modernity’’ or ‘’development’’ creates a big divide between the rural agricultural/subsistence folk and the urban ‘’educated’’, terming the later as backward, uneducated and poor. This stereotyping has led these rural communities withdraw their would-be-useful and relevant knowledge from the public domain.
The elderly who have, hither to, provided food, land; conserved ecosystems and brought up the current generation have had their knowledge systems bashed and branded out-dated and backward. Rarely do the modern development workers, agriculturalists, ecologists, and other social workers consult elders in their innovations and researches about food, land and ecosystems.
Dialogues involve identification and involvement of knowledgeable elders in seeking sustainable solutions to the current conflicts on land, food and ecosystems. The elders are the depository of knowledge and young people seek this knowledge by asking relevant and right questions. When elders, gain confidence and faith then they reveal the knowledge used in conservation of ecosystems.
Dialogues are organised in an informal structure and facilitated by a trained animator who ensures an accommodative environment for discussion. The ideas from elders are inform of a story and facilitator ensures he asks the right questions at an appropriate time.
The project works with 3 communities and the selection of animators was carefully done with the help of elders and the entire community group. The animators are part of the community group and have been participating in the dialogues specific roles of these animators will include, among others, the following;
In a 5- day training facilitated by NAPE and Gaia staff, the animators were introduced to the theory of earth laws, regarding food, land and ecosystems conservation and organising and facilitating a dialogue. It is planned that as the animators continue participating in the dialogues which are animated by NAPE project officer, they will gain more experience and knowledge from elders. This will enable them start organising and animate the subsequent dialogues in year 2 and 3 of the project.